September 30, 2007

All Good Things...

Well, it's the last night of break and tomorrow Term 2 begins. I am roughly the same combination of excited and anxious that I was a few months ago, though I think the reasons have somewhat changed. Either way, I'm looking forward to learning more about game design. The sheer amount of information and skills I learned last term is almost unbelievable. I intend to for my break to end the same way it began: with an unreasonable amount of video games. I just haven't decided what to play yet.

I picked up Eternal Sonata last night and have been playing the crap out of it - almost eleven hours since yesterday night. I think the game is extremely well put together: the graphics are dazzling, the battle system is fun and keeps developing as I play, the music is quite good, and the story seems solid though it doesn't appear to blaze any new trails. Probably the one thing I find strangest is the economy and, more specifically, the way selling photos completely unbalances it.

Even a crappy photo of a boss monster can net thousands upon thousands of gold and you are capable of holding up to 12 separate photos. Shop keepers will even buy copies of the same picture for the same price. What this means is that after EACH boss battle the player can receive an influx of about 50K to 100K in gold in a world where ALL the weapons, armor, and items for the entire party might run 5 to 10K. Currently I'm sitting on about 175K gold and that just seems odd.

It may have been a conscious design decision to promote the environment/mythos (photos in Chopin's day would probably have run a pretty high price), but that still doesn't make it a good one. Baten Kaitos similarly used photos to fund the party, but the combination of the randomness of drawing a camera attack and lower prices for photos in general are what made that system feasible. In the end it's not a huge deal, but it does mitigate the feeling of equipment progression when you can buy whatever you want (or 100 of whatever you want) as soon as you find it. Regardless, I've been enjoying my run through the game, and it's nice to see the 360 finally getting some solid JRPGs, but I'm still waiting to play The Last Remnant or Lost Odyssey.

Alright, enough writing, time to go enjoy my last few hours of game-filled freedom!

September 29, 2007

Break FTW!

Metroid Prime 3 is no more! This brings my list of entertainment "achievements" over break to:
  • Completed World in Conflict
  • Completed Halo 3
  • Completed Metroid Prime 3
  • Completed Supreme Commander: Cybran Campaign
  • Completed Harry Potter: Book VII
That's in addition to a sizable amount of multiplayer in Halo 3, World in Conflict, and Team Fortress 2. It's been a good week.

Now, having just played Metroid Prime 3 for about five hours straight, I've gotta go ice my hand.

September 28, 2007

Another Day, Another Missed Post

Well, I missed another day, oh well. Not too terribly much going on here right now as you might imagine. I went to the Texas DMV (or its equivalent) yesterday and played a fair bit of Metroid Prime 3, Supreme Commander, and Soul Nomad. I finished the Cybran Campaign in Sup Com this morning and have been making steady progress in Metroid, though my progress in Metroid has been stymied by a series of wicked hand cramps.

Has anyone else had this or similar uncomfortable things occur while playing the Wii? It's not a big deal, it's not like I usually have more than an hour to play games during school, but when I try to go for a long term Metroid session, my right hand always ends up aching within a couple hours. It's weird and kind of annoying, maybe my hands are too big...or small...or...something. Anyway, that's basically all I've been up to.

Metroid is quite good and Soul Nomad is weird, but interesting, though I don't agree with all their design choices. Most notably, the number of times I am given a dialog "choice" with only one option. That's just stupid, I'd rather have two responses that lead to exactly the same outcome than have no choice at all. Or at the very least, eliminate the illusion of choice and move on.

Actually the game has an interesting premise: there are these gigantic behemoths (World Eaters) that were created by the God of Death (Gig) 200 years ago in his bid to conquer the world. He was defeated, but the World Eaters remained. Now 200 years later, you are fused with Gig in order to use his power to defeat these world destroying monstrosities, without becoming completely corrupted by Gig in the process.

Admittedly, I'm not very far (so this may develop as the game progresses) but I feel like there are some missed opportunities in the narrative that only make sense to me as a lack of money or time. In the 3-4 hours I've played, Gig has tried to tempt me a handful of times to do things that were mildly evil up to downright malevolent, but whenever I am given the choice I have only one response: to unequivocally refuse.

It seems like if the player could actually give in to Gig's temptations when necessary or appropriate the narrative could be much more powerful, and it's quite possible this could be accomplished with minimal development of extra content. Regardless, the narrative and mechanics at least have me interested enough to keep playing, and I've heard the story starts a bit slow but really picks up later on. Here's hoping!

September 26, 2007

Thoughts on Halo 3

Having now finished Halo 3 and played a bit of multiplayer, I think I can arrange my thoughts on the matter, which may be inflammatory, we'll see. I think that on the whole the campaign provides a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and is a load of fun to play through. It is a bit on the short side (~10-12 hours I think), but it is punctuated by crazy awesome moments and the last level really had me engaged which is one of the best things I can say.

Overall, I think the story of the Halo trilogy would rate somewhere from "above average" to "good." I don't think it does anything really interesting, but it is well presented and does take a few twists throughout the series. That being said, I think I would have to recommend the singleplayer campaign of Bioshock a bit more highly. Yeah, I know, some of you are going to accuse me of being some kind of Bioshock fanboy, which may be true, but I think the Bioshock singleplayer experience is more substantial. It has more content, arguably better graphics, a more interesting storyline/atmosphere, and multiple endings. On singleplayer merits alone I think Bioshock is an easy winner, but multiplayer is always where Halo has shined and this is no exception.

Halo 3's multiplayer is an improvement over Halo 2, which in and of itself is monumental. The levels seem interesting and well designed, the weapons have been better balanced, and the modes have been redesigned to be, well, more fun. Also, the additions of Forge and the Replay Theater add even more. Having played with the replay theater for about an hour now (trying to get screenshots to post to bungie.net with little success so far), I can safely say it is one of the coolest new features in the game. I haven't yet used Forge, but conceptually it seems to add even more to the game's longevity and seems like something an aspiring level designer (i.e., me) will have a lot of fun playing around in.

Altogether what does this mean? I think on the whole I would give Halo 3 a 9.0 which just a hair lower than Bioshock's 9.5. This is mostly due to the fact that I tend to focus more on singleplayer experiences and I think Bioshock's is flat out better. Halo 3 is a fantastic game, and I will probably play more than my fair share of Halo 3 multiplayer in the coming months, perhaps more than I played Bioshock. On the whole I think they are both terrific games, we are lucky to have both of them, and the rest of the season looks just as bright.

September 24, 2007

Another Contender for Game of the Year?

Having just completed the single player campaign of World in Conflict and having played the multiplayer for a relatively substantial amount of time (about 10 to 15 hours including my time with the demo), I think I can safely say that it is one of the best strategy games I have played ever and easily a contender for Game of the Year and my current front runner for strategy game of the year.

While I understand that it is unlikely to be Game of the Year against contenders such as Halo 3 and Mass Effect I don't think it can be overstated how good this game really is. It combines great graphics and sound, exciting and fun gameplay, a powerful singleplayer campaign, and an addicitively fun multiplayer mode.

Really I can't find anything at fault with the game, except for the fact that the multiplayer can get somewhat frustrating since the strong RPS system means you are reliant on your teammates to protect you, and sometimes they don't understand that. And really, that isn't a fault, that is as designed, and when it works it's awesome, you just need to find some people who clearly know what they are doing and befriend them.

Anyway, I just wanted to communicate how extremely pleased I was with this game, when it basically fallen off my radar. I think Massive managed to create an exciting strategy game that may actually be able to pull some gamers away from their first person shooters for a few seconds, and that in and of itself deserves praise. Add to that everything else it has going for it, and you have what is easily one of the best games this year.

September 23, 2007

All Halo's Eve

Is today Halo's Eve or is it tomorrow? It's somewhat unclear since I will have it in my hot little hands tomorrow night. Anyway, today was largely uneventful, I mostly just played more games and ran a few quick errands. World in Conflict continues to impress as does Metroid Prime 3. I am excited about the release of Halo 3 but not overwhelmingly so. I think World in Conflict and Bioshock ranked a bit higher on my hype meter.

Don't get me wrong, I'm really looking forward to "finishing the fight," but from everything I've seen and played in the beta, Halo 3 doesn't seem to be offering substantially more over it's predecessors. I leave it to Bungie to prove me wrong, which I am reasonably sure they are capable of doing, but I don't find myself as excited for it as other notable releases this season both past (Bioshock, World in Conflict) and future (Mass Effect, Folklore).

We shall see...

September 22, 2007

Vacation!

Sorry for the increasing number of voids in my blog posting. I made a recurring task in Outlook that would remind me to post, but since I haven't really been checking my Outlook recently I haven't been following it. Anyway, the exhibition went very well and the "Microsoft guy" (who was, in fact, JJ Richards the general manager of Xbox Live) was very complimentary of VIRUS and the other games demonstrated by my cohort as well.

Actually everyone seemed to really like the game, including some alumni from previous cohorts, current students, and many of the children wandering around the exhibition. Actually there was a point where one kid had been playing VIRUS for a little while and we had encouraged him to try one of the other games in the room, but he said he wanted to keep playing our game and so he did up until he had to leave, which was a pretty cool little anecdote. Overall, I am very pleased with the game we produced and the both the faculty and exhibition attendees seemed to agree.

Today, I have done basically nothing productive. I woke up at around noon, went through my normal morning routine and played World in Conflict online with my brother, Rick, for about 3 hours. Then I played some Metroid Prime 3, ate dinner, and read a little. Now I'm probably gonna play a little more World in Conflict campaign, maybes some more Metroid, and then get some sleep. Then repeat until Halo 3 comes out :). I have a few basic errands I need to knock out over the week, most notably getting my car registered in TX, but I've spaced it out pretty sparsely so I should get a lot of time to relax and regenerate before next term.

September 20, 2007

Euphoria

That's the only way I can really describe the feeling I've had, pretty much since yesterday. It's like basically every day there were about six different weights on my shoulders and then they were suddenly all lifted. I know this break will be short lived, but it's a good feeling to not have something that constantly needs to be worked on.

In other news, Team Fortress 2 and World in Conflict are awesome and I will enjoy gorging myself on them very much over the next couple days before I begin gorging myself on Halo 3. Anyway, I just woke up not too long ago from a long night of celebrating and playing many games, so I'm going to go eat and exercise and whatnot. Later!

September 18, 2007

One More Final To Go

Well, I just got back from finishing my trebuchet for our art final. My textures weren't perfect, but I think I did as well as I could with the time I had available. I think it should be graded favorably. Game studies final was this morning, but it was pretty simple, so I'm pretty sure I did well in that class.

Tomorrow is our Level Design final which is practical (something on the order of: build a level with x, y, and z from scratch using Torque X). The good news is that having a practical exam means there is very little to study making tonight a psuedo-beginning to my break. I plan to look over a few things tomorrow, but tonight I'm gonna play some games and finally get some sleep. I also think there's a big celebratory Team Fortress 2 LAN game getting together after everyone finishes their last final so I should probably download that at some point.

Anyway, I'm gonna go enjoy the rest of the night, later!

P.S. For anyone who's interested, here's a video of the trebuchet. Also, I know some of you will be quick to point out that a trebuchet is supposed to have a sling at the top, but animating flexible materials is hard (without physics or code) so we got a bye on that.

video

September 17, 2007

Exhibit THIS!

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday, I literally worked from when I woke up at 10:00 AM until I went to bed at 5:00 AM with the exception of a ~1 hour break for dinner. We had one major issue we had to iron out and the diagnosis process took a very long time, but we eventually got it. Anyway, I suppose all's well that ends well, check out the following email:
Your games have been selected to be shown in the upcoming Exhibition. Please plan to attend all day on Friday. You should attend your specialization's graduate presentations from 1-4.

Set-up for your demo is from 4-5 p.m. in RM 238. This section will run from 5-9 p.m.

Please have 4 computers running the game with at least one XBox controller.

Also, please do not break your game between now and Friday. Freeze it from today's build.

Thanks and congratulations!
Solid.

There were two other games chosen that were also quite impressive so this recognition of our work is really satisfying. I think plenty of other group's had really solid game concepts as well, it was just a question of how willing you were to push through the code issues to get to a solid build. In the end though, I was really impressed with the presentations today, it's amazing that you can send off around 40 students to make a game for a month and get back such diverse and interesting results.

Anyway, I've got a trebuchet to render, so I should go get to that...

September 15, 2007

Closing In

Well, there goes another Saturday basically subsumed by my game project. This whole "work pretty much all day, every day" thing is starting to wear on everyone I think. It's not that I am averse to hard work or anything, but I also recognize all too well the need to discharge at times. I've been trying to give myself time to unwind every now and then, but with the gravity of my projects over my head, I don't usually unwind very well even when I am not working on them.

I am happy with what VIRUS is, but at the same time I see all the stuff we couldn't manage to do for one reason or another and that makes me sad. I mean, I guess that's really one of the lessons here (I think they've actually told us as much), so I shouldn't worry about it so much. Though trying to convince me not to worry about things is virtually impossible. I think we've made a really good game that is fun to play and incorporates some interesting ideas that are off the beaten path of your average platformer. We've had to cut or adjust a lot to fit within technology and time constraints and I think that's what bugs me, but I guess there's nothing we can really do, so I'm just going to try to let it go.

Final project presentations are Monday, the Game Studies final and Art final project are Tuesday, and the Level Design final is Wednesday. Added all together, that seems like a pretty fierce three days to be staring straight in the face. This is of course added to the fact that everyone is noticeably slowing down as weeks of little sleep begin to catch up with them.It's not all doom and gloom, regardless of what I do or how well things go, Wednesday and break will arrive with the same speed, so I guess that's a kind of silver lining. I think I am set up to do well, I'm just a little stressed at the size of it all.

Anyway, I think I'm going to try to unwind a bit before bed and prepare for what is sure to be another long Sunday. Oh, and don't interpret all my ranting as displeasure or unhappiness. I'm actually really happy and excited about the work I am doing (though I might wish I wasn't doing it ALL the time), I'm just nervous about the judgments that will come in the next few days. Alright, I'm off. Take Care, All!

September 14, 2007

Microsoft's Coming to Town

Apparently, people from the Microsoft XNA team are coming to the exhibition next Friday to see the work that we have been doing in Torque X this semester. What this means is that instead of (or in addition to) presenting at the exhibition 24 weeks after completing the project (allowing additional time for production materials and further polish), we are supposed to present roughly 4 days after finishing up. Furthermore, it means the faculty is busily trying to find room and time to present our projects at the exhibition despite having neither.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure we were chosen to be one of the projects presented to the Microsoft reps (I think they still need to vote or something) which is both exciting and a little nerve-racking, I guess. We're already trying to do a lot of last minute polishing, testing, etc. and trying to get everything worthy of being presented more officially is just a lot to do in a short timeframe. Heh, anyway, I've got some things to do before dinner, and then hopefully my Friday ritual of not working afterwards.

September 13, 2007

Only a few more days...

We had our last Game Studies and Art classes today (except for the finals of course) and tomorrow will basically be the last days of everything else. It's been one hell of a run so far, and I've done more work than I think have...well...ever. I recognize , I am talking about it like it's the end of some big journey or ordeal when in truth, it's only the beginning. I guess it really has taxed me and with the oasis of break in sight, it really does feel like a major achievement, *shrug*. Anyway, there's plenty to be done for VIRUS before Monday and so I should probably get started now :).

September 12, 2007

Violin of DOOM!

It's kind of sad when you only manage to accomplish one of the things on your to do list, AND you had intended to accomplish it yesterday. Nevertheless, my last art assignment, a fully modeled and textured violin, is now complete and here are the results:



I'm pretty happy with it. The strings are a little funky, but that's due to the fact I had to warp them in Photoshop in order for the texture to not get completely destroyed when mapped. It'll probably cost me a point, but whatever. Time has become an incredibly precious commodity and there are plenty of other things I need to focus on. Speaking of which, I suppose I should go do my best to prepare for tomorrow. It's really close to the end of the term, but that just leaves some of the biggest hurdles between then and now. Still, break is in sight, and World in Conflict and Halo 3 are very brilliantly lighting the end of my tunnel.

P.S. No VIRUS screenshots yet (except a couple with error messages on them). I had my hands full at the meeting just trying to document everything. I'll post some soon, I promise.

September 11, 2007

One Week...

That's right, there's only one week left until the end of Term I. Kind of amazing really, it feels like it's been so long, I think because of the sheer amount of time I have been investing in it. It has to be close to 100 hours a week. I can't quite check out yet though, there's still plenty to do, most notably, polish off the final version of VIRUS. The whole team is getting together tomorrow to go on a bug hunt and prioritize any remaining work so that should give me an opportunity to take a few screenshots for those that have asked. In addition, I have a violin I need to finish for art class and we just got out final project (a textured & animated trebuchet) for art as well. The other classes are lying low at the moment which is good.

I guess the thing that occupies my mind is all the things we could do for VIRUS. The biggest thing we have talked about is adding a simple tutorial level that would introduce the player to some of the core concepts and really pull them in. I definitely would love to have it, but there are a lot of things that NEED to get done first, and that level isn't really a requirement. Also, every time we have integrated our files thus far Torque has done something crazy and I'm a bit worried that adding a new level might break everything and at the end of the day, require me to remove it again. The first step will be seeing how quickly and how effectively I can eliminate our current bugs and then see what time that leaves me. Anyway, I should get to the aforementioned violin. Later!

September 10, 2007

Sleep is good...

Well, the beta demo when well I think. We didn't actually get to hear our grade (the professor was supposed to stop by our workroom, but I guess she didn't have time), but the professor seemed suitably impressed. There are some major and entirely inexplicable bugs in the game right now that we are able to avoid, but their cause is unclear. Oh well, I guess that's what the whole beta stage is for right?

Because I spent basically the entire weekend working on beta, I didn't have the chance to read our Game Studies reading until today. Luckily, our level design class was canceled for today, which gave me the much needed time to catch up, but as you might expect, reading 100+ pages of history (even game history) on no sleep is a particularly difficult task. It was remarkably difficult to stay awake, and I think some serious reviewing will be in order once I am a bit more lucid. Anyway, that is about all, I think I am going to relax a little for the rest of the night and try to get to bed early for once. Later all!

P.S. I know a couple people have asked me for screenshots; I will try to get some when I have a little more time. It shouldn't be too hard to grab a few during one of my beta testing sessions. I will post them in the near future.

Where did my weekend go?

Well, it's 7:30 A.M. on Monday and I didn't just wake up. Beta is solid : good gameplay, the majority of all the content we wanted to feature, and no complete showstopper bugs that I am aware of. I think the lack of sleep is starting to catch up on me, though. Oh well, I'm sure it's good for me or builds character or some such. Right now, I am just looking forward to a nice nap later today, but I've got to make it through the day first.

September 8, 2007

It's gonna be a long Sunday

I'm not sure I've ever had a Saturday where I did absolutely nothing but work. Today I basically woke up, exercised, cleaned a little and the rest has been a combination doing of my laundry and working on VIRUS Beta. Oi.

Also, I had a little spat with one of my team members that didn't really help with my stress level. I think everyone's nerves are a little frayed, and I'm no exception. The boss is mostly done but he certainly needs more work in terms of balancing, fun factor, etc. Beta is due Monday morning and we also have a reasonably sized level design assignment that I haven't even started due that day as well. Anyway, I need to get back to work I guess. Later...

September 6, 2007

Google Me!

Hey, I decided to Google myself (hmmm, that just sounds dirty....) and I found out I am actually the second hit on the first page. Sadly, not for this site but for a paper I wrote in grad school. Still according to Google I am one of the most pertinent "Thomas Hoeg"s on the internet. Awesome.

Me:1 Barrel:0

Well it's been a busy week, mostly due to the Two Towers assignment I already lamented previously. After that I had to create a barrel for art class, and here's how it came out:



I was pretty happy with it. Definitely more photo-realistic than my crate, I guess it depends on the style of the game. Yeah, ok, the barrel's probably better...

Now I have time to actually work on VIRUS which is still in a very good place, but I haven't really had a chance to work on since Alpha. Tomorrow we have two working sessions in Team Game Production and Level Design so that should give me plenty of time to get caught up and should hopefully allow me to perform my Friday ritual of NOT working. We'll see how it goes. Anyway, things are going very well and my first term is starting to finally wind down, a few more projects and assignments, then finals and a much needed break before term 2. Woo!

September 5, 2007

I Take This $@&% Serious!

Well, it's finally done. The project that consumed altogether too much of my time is finally complete. The beast came out at around 14 pages which was much more than I think was expected, but we'll see. It took more time than almost any project I think I have worked on thus far, but I think the end result was something very solid, and it certainly kicked me back into work mode after Labor Day weekend, which I actually mean as a good thing. Anyway, I should probably turn in for the night. The project put me behind on a couple other things so I think it's gonna be a long few days before Beta...

September 4, 2007

This Assignment Vexes Me...

I'm terribly vexed...

Bleh...

This Game Studies assignment is taking me way more time than I know it should, but I can't seem to get it moving any faster. It basically involves trying to balance this combat system around a single character with multiple attacks and a few different enemies. I understand the method and I have all the formulas programmed correctly, but for the life of me I just cannot put together a solution. Anyway, I have to get back to it, I'll have to cut this short. Bah!

September 3, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Well, it's about time I got back to work. I met with my group this morning for about 2 hours and stared at my Game Studies assignment for about an hour, again with little progress. The rest of the day I spent playing games, so I guess I can't complain too much, but now I really need to start doing things. Beta is less than a week from now, and the list of changes, albeit many minor ones, is quite long. In addition to that, there are still a few major projects between now and the end of term, most notably this Game Studies project and finals. Honestly, it feels like I've been through worse at this point, but that doesn't mean it's going to be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. Alright, well I suppose I should stop talking about my work and actually go do some of it. Later!

September 2, 2007

Uneventful

Not much to say for today really. Played some games, worked on a Game Studies exercise for a while, but ultimately I didn't make much progress on it. Tomorrow I need to come back from my little mini-vacation and get back to work. I really sprinted to hit Alpha and so I needed a bit of a breather, but having run through the Alpha a few times now, I've made some notes as to what needs to get done for Beta (due one week from tomorrow) and the list isn't short.

After that it's a week until the end of term. I can't believe my first term is almost over, time flies by like crazy here. Anyway, I'm glad that this weekend lined up the way it did, it was just what I needed. Alright, I think I'll play games for just a little while longer, then I should get to bed since I am meeting with my group tomorrow at 10:30 AM.

September 1, 2007

An Actual Holiday?

Remarkably, this weekend doesn't look too bad in terms of work. In fact, I didn't even work on anything Guildhall-related today. I took the spare time I had to clean up the apartment some as it had been getting progressively messier, and I had prior decided to play games instead of cleaning it. In addition, I played a fair amount of Warhawk with Rick and on my own. It's a good time, it doesn't do anything crazy original (though flying the titular Warhawk is remarkably fun) but it is very well balanced and a great deal of fun to play. It's very easy to spend a lot of time playing it even when you don't intend to.

I also just got back from going to see Superbad with a few friends. It was hilarious, I highly suggest any male go see it. I'm not saying women won't enjoy it or find it funny, but many of the jokes build off of the awkwardness of being a young man in high school and so I think that's who it will resonate with most. Regardless, most of the dialog ended up being covered in laughter which is surely a sign of a good comedy. Anyway, I'm off to play some games before bed, then tomorrow I will actually need to do some work, but not too much :). Take it easy!